88 Pictures strengthens its HR leadership with addition of Saharsh Shah as VP – human resources and talent acquisition

Strengthening its HR leadership, Mumbai-based animation studio 88 Pictures has got on board Saharsh Shah as vice president human resources and talent acquisition. The studio always believes in building a brand of  value rather than volume and the new addition to the team comes with a hope to re-define and re-design new ways of human resource management. 

Milind D. Shinde

Commenting on this new addition, 88 Pictures founder and CEO Milind D. Shinde told Animation Xpress, “88 Pictures has grown organically over the last six years and it’s time for us to expand as a full-fledged organization that is spreading its wings across the geographies. We have built a successful proof of concept and created a strong base that is ready to rapidly expand to newer scale and heights. HR has been one key function that is very close to us and is core to the successful and strong culture we have built at 88 Pictures, and we needed someone to further strengthen this. We want to re-define and re-design new ways of HR for our industry and are very inspired to start something we call ‘Human Capital’ rather than `Human Resource’ which will be a new age HR solution for us. Saharsh has great experiences of having built successful teams and processes in the past and has a unique bent of mind that we were looking for to run our Human Capital. We are very excited to have him on board and charter new horizons with us on how we want to run our organisation of the future. Especially post pandemic, the way HR runs changed and we are just getting ready for it. Our goal is to get ourselves in the great places to work in the next year.”

Aby John

Adding to what Shinde said, 88 Pictures co-founder and COO Aby John added, “For the business to grow, some functions that are so essential to business get seldom ignored. In our industry, we see HR as a mere function to hire people, manage leaves and give out salary slips (he laughs). However, we are the same country where we have examples of some of the best large organisations such as Tata, Infosys to name a few, that have built great HR systems and culture around HR. I have personally studied HR while pursuing my MBA and always thought I’ll get into HR, so the subject was very close to my heart. I would not comment on how it is done in our industry but we at 88, want to put our focus on building a strong and sustainable HR domain that can become a brand and almost a role model. I am extremely happy with the addition of Saharsh to the team and we already have a lot of new initiatives and plans that will be rolled out soon.”

Saharsh Shah

Sharing his views on why he chose 88 Pictures as his next destination, Shah commented, “It’s been a fulfilling professional journey so far. Everyone at every step of my professional life has always helped me get where I am today and I really feel blessed to have all the wonderful colleagues, bosses I have met in life. Sometimes when you do what you do the best, you start believing you have achieved everything. I think it’s those times which makes you wonder what is left for me to learn and offer my learnings back to the industry. I feel it’s about venturing into unknowns and making them known.”

He further added, “88 Pictures, as we all know, is a home-grown very successful and interesting story that has always been operating under the radar. For the scale and success it has had in the short time span of the last six years, the organisation has strong fundamentals in place that will make us one of the leaders in the industry in the years to come. I also feel the best thing happens when you don’t expect them to happen, or they just come around your way and you must grab them with both hands. It was a serendipitous meeting with the founders on one of the evenings that added glitters in my mind, and I decided how I want to spend the next years of my professional life. Build a New Age HR, try to add a new dimension to this whole area of Human Capital which largely gets ignored as a support function in our industry and be part of the team that is here to create some difference, and here I am.”

Here’s what Saharsh Shah has to say about 88 Pictures and HR industry:

What are the challenges you see for HR in the AVGC industry and what would you like to improve in HR considering the current times?

HR in our industry is yet to catch up with the standards set up by the companies on the likes of Wipro and TCS. We have a lot of catching up to do with them in terms of having a workforce which is engaged. In our industry, Employee Engagement is just about organizing and managing events. However, employee engagement is much more than just managing events. Employee engagement, competency mapping and promoting a culture of care along with taking care of the Happiness Index will be the key goals of the upcoming year in 88 Pictures. This will be of paramount importance to how an employee perceives HR and the company in general.

Post pandemic, everyone talks about ‘the New Normal of working’, what is the new normal according to you?

The ‘New Normal’ will be to ensure that we are able to include Agility, Flexibility and Stability in the life of our employees at 88 Pictures. The culture in the studio is of the people, by the people and For the People. The central focus is to ensure that we create an ecosystem where we can manage the expectations of the Show as well as ensure that we are not exposing the employees to risks. We must understand that the Pandemic and the ensuing lockdown has changed the lives of many people in the country, and we want to do whatever we can to alleviate the issues caused by this life altering situation. I think the ‘Work from Home’ or ‘Hybrid’ or ‘Work from Office’ culture is here to stay but we would like to build a studio where we are able to touch and feel the whole growth process and in the same grain, we would also like to remain employee centric. 

Especially for the VFX, Animation and Gaming industry, there is always an apparent struggle with supply and demand vs skill sets, what would be your take in this area?

This struggle has come to the fore in the last four to five years. Prior to that, India was never at the forefront of the VAG industry. In the last  few years, a lot of international studios have come around and taken note that artists in India are able to deliver the most complex of sequences and are in a beeline to open studios in India. The reality is that the supply from the Animation and VFX institutes is also quite raw, and we cannot absorb them as they are. We will have to invest in training them and making them ready to deliver the quality of work required. The principle in 88 Pictures is to chase Excellence and not success, just as Aamir Khan delivers in his iconic dialogue in the movie 3 Idiots. We want to build on the excellence culture and would want the employees to experience the change it brings associated with the culture.

Where does adding new talent, training, come into the ecosystem and how would you like to shape the future of Human capital?

Our training and development vertical in 88 Pictures is named as Gurukul. Talent Development is very important, it increases productivity and hence performance. Through Talent Development, the employees understand their role in the company and the effective utilization of the tools which will help them to deliver tasks allocated to them smartly. If the training sessions are delivered properly, the employee feels engaged which also increases the performance.  Gurukul is going to play an important part in the life of an 88ian as we have plans to implement OD Interventions like assessment and development centers to evaluate an individual’s suitability for specific jobs and to identify strengths and areas for training and development. We would be creating targeted training programs to accelerate the growth of the employees and accelerate their growth rate. This is just one initiative planned. There are many such initiatives being planned which will make 88 Pictures stand out of the crowd and put the employee’s growth at the forefront. Watch this space for more information on what we are planning next.

What are the core values of a successful HR according to you and how do you plan to get them integrated into your next adventure?

The core values of a successful HR unit are one that chases excellence, has respect, is inclusive in all aspects, is able to be flexible and transform as per the need of the hour, is able to build equity for HR by the employees and most importantly play the role of a servant leader.

The intention is to create a team who will be ready to innovate at the drop of a hat and be focused on solutions and not postmortem of mistakes. The principle of this team will be to ‘Fail and Fly’ and one that focuses on learning from mistakes and not that of someone who fears making mistakes and gears up to fly. The road to excellence is filled with potholes which can only be filled up with continuous learning and humility. This is going to be my focus whilst gearing up for this next adventure in life called 88 Pictures.

Lastly, what would be your message to people who are trying to make their career in HR and would you recommend someone for this and why?

Human Resources plays the role of a very vital cog in the wheel of a company and it’s only since the pandemic that the companies have started to understand the value HR brings to the table. 

Those who are choosing HR as their career should be ready to get into a ride of their lives as HR has suddenly evolved in the last two years and the expectations from an HR professional is to be transparent and open to help the employees. 

As a part of its Legacy, HR has been known as a vertical where you typically find individuals who are only administrators and transactional workers. This aspect has seen a tangential shift and HR is at the forefront of employee experience and transformation. The kind of exposure that an HR professional gets today vis-à-vis what they were getting earlier is very different. So if you are interested to be in a department where you can be a part of employee transformation and hence increasing the value of the company, this is the department you should be in.